A Plea For Companies To Provide Support Via Text

There’s nothing I dread more these days than having to make a customer service call. Just overhearing a friend on a 53-minute service call to Air Canada for tracking down a seemingly “lost” booking was painful enough to prompt me to pen this post. In today’s Whatsapp-dominated world, why are we still stuck with long hold times with elevator music?  Is there anything more annoying than having to read and correct names, addresses and credit card numbers over the phone?

I find it curious why email hasn’t become the favored medium for customer support. One thought is that the long-form nature of email makes it less than ideal for resolving user issues. It’d be great if users always wrote in with a succinct description of the issue they’re looking to resolve, along with all relevant supporting information. However, the process of resolving a customer issue often requires a back-and-forth conversation between the agent and the user to narrow the issues, identify possible solutions, and obtain the requisite information to provide a resolution. Email isn't great for conversations, as threads become unwieldy after about a dozen or so replies.

Messaging, whether by SMS or through an app, seems to be a great medium for customer support and getting resolution to edge-case issues that can't be handled by automated systems. Transmitting data like names, addresses, account and booking numbers and credit card data is much, much easier. (You’ll truly understand my pain when you note that I have a “u” and a “double-u” consecutively my first name.) You can also easily attach photos and screenshots of supporting documentation. 

There’s also a certain user expectation of “synchronous, but-not-really” associated with text-messaging. It allows either party to do further reserach or collect information without tying up the other, while also allowing for rapid-fire communication when necessary. There’s also an expectation of brevity that makes messaging a better medium than email. By design of the medium, users cannot fit essays into a message — they are forced to present their issues one at a time, in short snippets.

The primary benefit to companies would, of course, be happier users. It’s also quite possible that their staff members will be able to process issues much quicker, although one might argue that their current approach reduces queue length merely through user-attrition. (But certainly, that can’t be a valid strategy?) Having conversations on-record helps companies audit and train agents much better, as well as quickly gain customer insight.

So why haven’t companies all flocked to this medium? Tools like Sendhub are becoming more widely available. Are companies simply not aware of these options? Do they need help in getting processes and systems in place to support support-by-text?  Are there any weird incentives I simply failed to consider?

7 responses
Thanks, good thoughts here. I work for a crazy-fast growing tech company that supports its users by email and text only. Yet we still receive multiple requests on a daily basis from our strongest users to speak on the phone. I believe there is a perceived notion in the general public that speaking is the fastest way to resolve an issue. This probably comes from the fact that we can speak our thoughts faster than almost any other method of communication. Verbally talking with someone is also the most primal way of resolving issues. Finally, 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through vocal elements (how those words are spoken), and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc) (from a blog I wrote - http://blog.blainelight.com/2012/09/NonVerbalCo...); most people want to have their frustrations 'heard' when reach out to support, and text only convey's 7% of their whole message. In a tech-centric world, it's easy for us to want to embrace the future. We have to realize that even the early majority is still dependent on voice communications to express their primal need for help (i.e. asking for support from a company). Would love to hear your further thoughts. -Blaine
Blaine, please don't spread false information and read the original research. "7% of any message is conveyed through words". Really? It never struck you as odd? If that was true, why would we ever bother learning foreign languages? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Mehrabian
Thanks Euwyn, I couldn't agree more. I recently read that we waste 28 hours per year waiting on the phone for customer service. That is unacceptable in 2014. The new generation of customers won't wait that long. They want an instant, near-real time, asynchronous yet persistent communication channel. My personal bet is that in just a few years text-messaging will be the primary communication channel for customer service. Just as it already is the favorite channel between friends. Fabien Degaugue, Instaply.com founder ceo
Good though, and an interesting concept. I'm a little curious as to how it would work, though. How would one go about opening a support ticket? Texting their account info? If so, wouldn't it take 2 messages, one for the info, and one for the actual problem? What if brevity isn't an option? Maybe it would work better as the start to a dialogue. Something like texting their info, and then receiving a call from the company. That way, the client wouldn't have to wait on the phone for a rep, and they wouldn't have to go through any prompts or give any information to have the rep look them up. They'd just get a call from a person looking at their account, and be able to give them the details of their issue. Afterwards, the rep could either help them immediately, or go to research the issue and carry on with texts back and forth. And, of course, any time the texts got too cumbersome, the rep could initiate a phone call (by setting an appropriate time for the customer through texts). Of course, issues could arise with that, based on a person's messaging plan, too. Anyway, like I said, I like the concept. I'm a little shaky on the specifics, but it seems like there's a way to get it functional. Nicely written article!
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